Category Archives: Harry Potter

Stop it!

I’m not terribly keen on Martin Amis. I am fairly sure I’ve not read any of his books. So I’m basing my lacking keen-ness on what I know about his person. I could object to his fame. Or to the fact that he probably earns a sizeable amount of money from writing.

The one thing that would never have ocurred to me to do, is suggest he should stop writing books. I don’t think he should. It’s what he does, and according to some people he is pretty good at it.

I liked some of his father’s books, so I accept that Martin most likely has some talent in that direction. He writes. People read and like and pay for the pleasure. That’s fine.

But if your name is J K Rowling and Harry Potter made you more money than most of us can begin to imagine (and I speak as someone used to handling lots of money; just not my own), then it appears it is OK to suggest she should give up writing, and leave her window of opportunity to a few other needy authors.

Why should she? I like the fact that she clearly enjoys writing so much that she does it even when she doesn’t have to, in order to feed and clothe her children. Especially now, when she must have discovered that she will get lots of flak if she publishes another book.

Unless it’s something as unimportant as a children’s book. (These are my words, but the sentiment in the Huffington Post the other day seemed to be that children’s books are not proper books, and that even J K has Lynn Shepherd’s permission to write more. Generous. What if she were to earn an even bigger slice of the author income cake?)

I’ve not read Hilary Mantel’s books either. I have nothing against Hilary, who I’m sure is nice. But I probably won’t choose to read her books while there is so much else I would like to prioritise. She wins prizes. A lot. And while it would be lovely for other writers to win as well, I don’t feel we can suggest that no one should award Hilary any more prizes, in case it upsets her peers. Or that she stops writing in order to prevent literary judges from praising her work.

Cuidado con el perro

That’s when I pushed the Resident IT Consultant forward. If there was going to be any biting by dogs, I didn’t want to be first through the door. Luckily my Spanish was there to warn me. Although, as it turned out, the doggy had been banished to the car. We stopped on our way out and Daughter teased it, a little. I suppose she felt safe enough with a bit of car in between.

So, day two of house speed-dating, or whatever you should call it. I can assure you that by the end of the day the Resident IT Consultant’s head was reeling, and he needed gentle guidance on where which toilet was, and that if the bedroom dimensions seemed small, that’s because it was a bathroom.

Eaves. I still don’t get why a steeper sloping roof has bigger eaves. It ought to be the other way round.

As you may have gathered, Daughter joined us for the day. She wasn’t in the slightest impressed by the estate agent who jokingly placed her in the boxroom, next to those eaves. But she did open all under stairs cupboards and make Harry Potter jokes. And, she felt the doggy property was straight out of Privet Drive.

I began the day by putting my boots on (well, I obviously had breakfast and things first first) and as I did so, the thought that I’d prefer not to have to take them off during the day, on account of them being difficult to put on, crossed my mind. That was before I discovered I had a 50p piece in my left boot so it had to come off again. But you will not be surprised to find that two house owners were of the take-your-shoes-off persuasion. Not that we did, but still. It was one of those witchy thoughts I get. Obviously, if I’d found more money in my boots, I would ‘happily’ have removed them. (This is Scotland. How much money can a witch expect to encounter inside her footwear?)

If we were proper people who kept up with all manner of normal stuff, we’d most likely have recognised one house vendor. As he opened a cupboard, which happened to be full of books (weird place to keep your books; as though they are an embarrassment) I noticed a pile of ten or so, new, pristine books, spine out, bearing his name. I refrained from asking if he was an author (which was very lucky), and went on admiring the house.

The silver shoe in the kitchen should have been a clue. We just thought it was an unusual taste in trinkets, but it seems it’s a trophy of the kind a successful football player might get. Because that’s what he was. Anyone normal would probably have said ‘don’t I recognise you?’

We gate-crashed one house viewing and sneaked around in the garden of another. We are fairly sure what we would like. We just can’t act on it yet. And when we can, it’s bound to be too late.

But at least we now have a spreadsheet listing the number of bathrooms and the distance to Lidl…

It’s not all the same to me

Why are we not the same? How come a book published in the English language in Ireland (which is practically British, anyway… 😉) needs to be published again in the UK? It seems so wasteful of resources, not to mention slow.

It must be something to do with money. Do more people make more money with a book published in English in ten different countries? I just get impatient with the waiting. And unlike television shows (although the less said about file sharing, the better) you can generally get hold of the physical book from ‘the other’ place.

Sometimes they are let loose on the same day, all over the world. But mostly not, even if it’s just a week’s difference. Harry Potter was released on the dot of whatever midnight was in every nook and cranny of the world. Because they knew if they didn’t, shops would not be able to sell many later copies, as the fans would have got their ‘cousin in London’ to buy and post the book.

Fine. If you need to have a publisher in each country, why not publish all over the world, in one fell swoop? Surely it would even out in the end? Big selling British novel makes money for publisher in London. In return an American publisher hits the jackpot with some other title they have published.

To return to the television angle for a moment. I love NCIS. First it appears gradually over the American continent on the first night’s screening. At a later point they sell the season to a UK channel I don’t have. This channel expects to make money from the commercials shown. Once they are done, one of the ordinary channels acquires the rights. They, too, want money from advertising.

Later on, I can buy the DVD box set. First comes the R1 version. Much later the R2. There will be a reason I can’t just tune in to CBS on the first night. I know. Advertisers in the US don’t reckon I’ll be buying much of what they want me to spend money on. But here’s the thing; I don’t buy much, if anything, brought to me by the UK advertisers, either. (There’s only so many sofas you can buy in one sale.)

So how does this work with books?

I recently reviewed Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. Simmone sent it to me, because she reckoned it’ll be a while before it’s available in Britain. I could have bought it from that online bookshop we all love to hate. At least, I think I could have. The .com version no longer forces me back to .co.uk, but merely suggests I might prefer it.

As for working out which publisher to approach, that is also very tricky. The names are often the same in different countries, but that doesn’t mean they publish the same books. A couple of years ago I had to do some detective work in order to find the correct Indian publisher of a book.

The author has written the book. It has been edited and given a cover. The printers have printed. So why not just spread this one book? OK, that would be as un-green as Kenyan green beans. We don’t want to transport books across the globe. So why not print the same thing, but in each country?

Covers. Yes. We don’t fall for the same style. But we could learn. We like Indian food. Why not like Indian book covers? It might make us more open minded. Just like there is a market for new retro covers for crime novels, we could covet cultural covers.

In short, I know very little. But I don’t want to wait. At the moment I’m wanting Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It exists. But it will be a long time coming my way, or so the publisher said, once I’d found out who it was (not the same as for the previous two Al Capones).

It’s one thing to wait for an author to write. We have to put up with this. But after that I will just vent my impatience, and snap.

Hanging on, and forgetting

I forget. Not quite everything, but an embarrassing amount.

When there is a new book once a year, even if it’s part of a series I really like, I need to work hard at remembering ‘how we left things.’ Usually I can pick up quickly enough, especially if there’s some coarse hint somewhere near the beginning.

Keeping up with Harry Potter was never a problem. I remembered his name and those of most of his friends and teachers. What’s more, I remembered what they’d done in the last book too.

If someone were to chat to me about when a certain thing happened in Skulduggery Pleasant, I would remember it. What I’d be less sure about is which book it was; the latest one, or one or two further back?

Maybe this is normal for my age. It’s not that I don’t obsess about the books. I do. I especially enjoyed it when, erm, you-know-him did that, thing, at that place…

And how can I forget cliff-hangers? It’s in their very nature that you mustn’t forget. Can’t forget.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency Returns

So now that I have this new-found interest in Eleanor Updale’s Montmorency, maybe it’s a good thing I am looking at reading all the books in a short period of time. That way I’ll remember what just happened.

I know this isn’t an option when you have to wait for books to be published. And whereas it can’t be the same if you come to Harry Potter now, having missed out on the media frenzy and midnight trips to bookshops, it must feel good to be able to move from the fourth book to the fifth and not have a three year wait.

To return to Eleanor and her books, I was intrigued to see that both Johnny Swanson and The Last Minute are published in paperback within weeks of each other, along with Eleanor’s own reissued Montmorency books and the new fifth book. Someone is wanting an Updale book bath.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

Can we afford experts?

The big shock in the children’s books world this week was the sacking of Amanda Craig as the children’s books reviewer in the Times.

Amanda has long been a beacon in the business of children’s reading, which is hardly surprising for someone who discovered Harry Potter (in a review sort of way). She doesn’t just recommend the obvious books, but has had the taste to like unknown books by unknown authors, and her status as reviewer for the Times has made all the difference for those getting a mention in her all too tiny portion of the paper.

But the Times obviously want to save on money, and someone seems to think that ‘anyone can do it.’ After all, it’s only children’s books. Not hard, and not important.

I’m not writing this because I believe Amanda has any special rights to this job. I’m merely commenting on the way she was ‘replaced.’ Will readers trust reviews in the paper now? Will they notice? Not being a Times customer, I never read Amanda’s column, but I knew of her long before I started blogging.

As long as she has that reputation, I reckon Amanda can continue reading and reviewing children’s fiction. She might have to join the ranks of unpaid bloggers, but I’m guessing she will get the readership her reviews deserve.

Or, one of the other serious papers could snap her up. If there is one that still has funds for children’s books.

Stockport Schools Book Award 2013

Authors simply don’t look like they’re meant to! You google them and know ‘exactly’ who to look for and…

Great minds think alike. The only difference being that the representative from Stockport Library Services had printed out his cheat sheet of author photos to help him recognise the award winning authors he was at my neighbourhood hotel to greet, while I had tried to memorise people’s faces.

In the end we did equally well, I’d say. We even recognised each other.

Stockport Librarian and Jeanne Willis

Jeanne Willis

I obviously know what Jeanne Willis looks like; the glammest girl in the children’s books world. She also knows what I look like, but I will spare you a description.

She was the first one down, and it was purely because the bar made for a nice shiny background that I photographed her there. Jeanne has never set foot in a bar before Wednesday evening. And what a foot! I mean; what an ankle bracelet!

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Hippospotamus

Tony Ross

Tony Ross

Jeanne won the KS1 award with Tony Ross for their picture book Hippospotamus, and just to be fair, I allowed Tony to flash his shoe and calf as well, although it wasn’t quite as exciting as when Jeanne did it. Although Tony looked most debonair. The upper half, I mean. (Note the halo.)

Adrian Reynolds & Thomas Taylor, The Pets You Get!

Thomas Taylor was next to show up, and he won the Early Years award with Adrian Reynolds for The Pets You Get! I found this a little confusing, since Thomas is an illustrator,* but it seems he has written the words this time and Adrian did the illustrations.

Thomas Taylor and Matt Dickinson

With so much handshaking going on, Matt Dickinson appeared, brandishing a hand after hiding in a corner somewhere. He was freshly arrived from Spain, so Stockport might have seemed like a bit of a letdown. Unseasonably warm, but not that warm. Matt is the author of Mortal Chaos, which won him the KS3 award.

Matt Dickinson, Mortal Chaos

Someone who was in town, but not at the hotel, unfortunately, was Christopher Edge, who wrote the KS2 winning book Twelve Minutes to Midnight. (So, no picture.)

Christopher Edge, Twelve Minutes to Midnight

Apparently the unspoken theme for the evening was the Oscars. I can believe that. Jeanne Willis in black and diamonds looked every centimetre the part. And then Katie Dale walked in, looking more like a fairy princess than any author I’ve ever seen (and I’ve met a few by now). It was definitely a Wow! kind of moment.

Katie Dale

Katie won the KS4 award for Someone Else’s Life, and I suspect the sight of That Dress could have rendered hordes of her fans speechless. Or perhaps they merely screamed.

Katie Dale, Someone Else's Life

If you are thinking that I am being shallow, going on about clothes, then you are quite correct. Reading is important, and the children of Stockport have read and voted. But there comes a time when glitter and glamour rule. Like Wednesday night at The Plaza.

For more down to earth-ness we discussed the difficulty of leaving Clacton (now that I’ve been warned, I will never go), and as the time came for the assembled beauties to leave for the award ceremony, there was a major taxi fail. None of the pre-booked pumpkins turned up, so wands had to be waved again, and again, before a successful leaving could be executed. (Katie’s dress obviously needed a whole backseat of its own…)

Katie Dale and handsome escort

And you know, after last week’s income reveal, and the number of authors who pay to go to awards, I had forgotten one aspect. Just think of the money spent on dazzling the fans with outfits like these! Utterly selfless.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

*If you think you don’t know Thomas or his work; think again. He’s responsible for the image on the right. A few of us will have seen it somewhere, despite it being the cover of a first novel by someone totally unknown.

(It’s my favourite of the HPs. I hadn’t realised they were done by different people. Now I know.)

And then it was time for lunch

First I need to get the pink pyjamas out of the way by mentioning them in passing, like this.

Right, that’s that done then.

For a very long time I didn’t meet Teri Terry. And then I see her twice in eight days. Which was very nice. On Tuesday she had some librarians to talk to at Waterstones Deansgate, and being a friendly sort of person she inquired as to how many willing and able lunch companions Manchester had to offer for a meal beforehand.

George Kirk, Jon Mayhew and Teri Terry

Seven, in the end, as some people were working, and some people remembered in the nick of time that they are parents and would actually need to pick up their children from school.

Marnie Riches, Jo Dearden, Nina Wadcock and Lorrie Porter

But the rest of us met up for lunch, with Jon Mayhew the lone male, surrounded by lovely women writers. And me. It was great food, and great fun. I’m so discreet, however, that apart from the pyjamas I will say no more.

Well, not much more, anyway. We talked ebooks at my end, and praised Harry Potter (yes, really), and there was some publishing gossip. And people brandished their copies of Teri’s and Jon’s books for signing. (We never forget we are fans first.) Marnie Riches who came despite being a parent-picker-upper left early. Which was a shame, but better than nothing.

Teri Terry

The day started with me boarding Teri’s Pendolino* in Stockport, so that I could gently guide her from Piccadilly towards Deansgate, and by happy circumstance interview her as well. I felt Waterstones café was a suitably bookish venue for this kind of thing. Teri bribed me with apple juice, so I will only say nice things about her. (I would have, even without juice.)

Marnie Riches

Marnie, eager to get in early to make up for parenthood, joined us there, and I saw the attraction in this and appointed her my photographer. The rumour must have spread, as Jon also turned up early, but by then the camera had been packed away. And in order to feed Marnie before she had to leave, we crossed the road to the Mexican restaurant someone had suggested.

Their cheesecake could have done with being half the size.

*That makes me feel like a cowboy who jumps from his horse to the stagecoach for a daring rescue.

But Mummy read that!

What will today’s young readers want to force their – as yet unborn – children to read? Or if they are really understanding parents (rather like me!) simply sigh over and decide that maybe XXX is a bit old-fashioned and since there are so many lovely new books, they will just let Little Darling read those instead.

With it being Roald Dahl day later this week, I was thinking about an article I read, which said that it’s mainly the parents who favour Dahl’s books now. Because they were the books they themselves read as children. (With me it was the other way round. I read Dahl to keep abreast of what Son and his peers liked.)

So what didn’t I force Offspring to read? Primarily the ‘real’ classics. The books that were pretty ancient even in my time, like The Three Musketeers and Ivanhoe, or Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I could almost forgive them for having no interest at all in those books.

But more ‘contemporary’ books like Pippi Longstocking were required reading. Or so I thought. Reading which we got round by watching the films and the television series. And then I discovered that Pippi was a bit of a bully, and nowhere near as funny as I remembered her to be.

Perhaps that’s how Roald Dahl’s books appear to children now? I can recall how appalled I was, seeing George’s Marvellous Medicine on stage. It really brought home the awfulness of those books. To this day I can’t bear Willy Wonka.

It won’t be long until a whole Harry Potter generation start to forcefeed their children wizards and witches and wands. Those readers are already beginning to pop up as authors (it’s probably quicker to write a book than to give birth to a new reader), having been inspired by Harry and Co.

If you don’t read Dahl now, you are very likely enjoying Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid or Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum. How long until they are the parents’ choice? Thirty years, maybe.

I get the impression that Enid Blyton still works, even without any arm twisting. I expected Daughter to like the Nancy Drew books and bought two with lovely period covers, and they are still sitting on a shelf in pristine condition.

The thing is, Mother-of-witch never suggested books to me. I read all of hers. There weren’t many, and I didn’t own a lot myself, so anything that was available got attention. Hers were mainly what girls had in the 1930s, so neither terribly classic or incredibly modern. They were just books.

Jules Verne, Till jordens medelpunkt

Perhaps if my childhood books had been in a language they could read, Offspring would have foraged and found something to enjoy.

Yeah, that’s probably it. Wrong language. Not wrong books.